The Office or Person?

A few nights ago, the president appeared on a late-night talk show, gave a very entertaining performance and interview, and now is being criticized for it by some, and lauded by others.


Those who found the appearance abhorrent said that it demeans the office of the presidency. Those who found the performance to be a positive thing believe–like I do–that it helped humanize Obama, where he’s been the president for 3-plus years and has been seen as little else.


Which brings up an interesting question: is the presidency the person or the office?


For the most part, we treat them as interchangeable: regardless of who’s in the office, they’re still the president, but even after they’re out of office, they’re still referred to by the title. But this gets murkier when the sitting president is running for reelection, because then he indeed is fulfilling a dual role as president and candidate.


But why can’t the president be a regular person? If, indeed, the job is the most stressful job on the face of the earth, can’t the man or woman in that role be allowed to let off steam and be funny on a TV show once in a while. Can’t we separate the office from the person long enough to realize that it’s a difficult enough job as it is?


I think that’s actually a big problem, and it’s symptomatic of our culture. People and their roles are never separated. If you’re in a tech job, you’re inherently a geek (whether you are or not). If you’re a lawyer, you work long hours, have no morals, and can argue almost any side of an issue. If you’re a cop, you’re either perfectly good or perfectly corrupt, and never right down the middle. And if you’re a politician, you’re always like an actor: portraying something you’re not in real life.


I think if we let our politicians be the real people they have to hide to get higher poll numbers, the world might be a happier place: politicians wouldn’t have to lie all of the time, the electorate wouldn’t have to wade through hip-deep shit to figure out if what they’re saying is real or not, and who knows…Maybe the whole governance process might smooth out because you don’t have to massage egos and posture to get things done.


Obama being on the talk show this week was several things all at once: it was a campaign appearance which was successful beyond his wildest dreams, it was a chance to have fun and poke fun at himself and others, and it was a chance that comes all too rarely, to see the leader of the country as a singular individual human being.


That should be appreciated. Not shunned. The office is just that, an office. It’s a rectangle on the great org-chart of the country. It doesn’t matter who’s sitting in the chair because the same phone and office and building are there all of the time. It’s what the person who has been elected to the job brings to the office that makes the office what it is. Not the other way around.


So, I’m waiting for the first of what hopefully will be many comedy debates by the candidates for the presidency.


See you tomorrow.